My baby swallowed a battery: a warning for parents

Lithium button cell battery isolated on white

*When Kristin wrote her story last May about her daughter falling down the stairs, we got a lot of response from parents thanking us for sharing that tough tale as a warning. Another friend reached out and asked if she could use this blog as an outlet to tell her story and I was happy to oblige. Her story has a happy ending, but it includes a scary warning for all parents.*

Lithium button cell battery isolated on white

As I near the one year anniversary of the story I’m about to tell, I am just now able to share it as a cautionary tale. This particular Saturday morning, my husband and I were preparing breakfast for our two boys. My oldest about 4 at the time) was, as always, slow to get out of bed. The baby who was approximately 7 months old was playing in the living room, anxiously waiting for the breakfast we were putting on the table. He was playing happily with the remote control. As a matter of fact my husband and I recalled later that we even pushed it back over to him a couple times when it got out of his reach.

Once breakfast was cooled and on the table we picked him up to take him into the dining room, and found that he was making unusual noises and acting uncomfortable. It was unclear what was going on, but he wasn’t really interested in eating, which was very out of character for him. I then went to look at where he was playing. Somehow he had removed to the back of the remote control and I noticed the battery was gone – a nickel sized lithium battery. On further observation I noticed some thick saliva coming out of his mouth. He acted as though he was trying to clear his throat. He was not choking, but he wasn’t comfortable either. Our initial thought was metal objects like coins pass through children, maybe we just needed to wait. Then I thought “battery acid” a term you always hear although I must admit I didn’t really know what it meant. We determined he needed medical care. I mentioned calling an ambulance but we decided it was going to be better to hop in the car and go straight to the ER.

Since our older son was out of bed, I grabbed my pump, diaper bag, and the child, hopped in the car and started racing toward the ER. My husband called minutes later after doing some research and informed me that I needed to get there as quickly as possible and justified that what we were doing was the right course of action. I vividly remember some of the sounds my baby was making as I was driving, but I decided that it was more beneficial to keep going towards the hospital as there was nothing I would be able to do for him on the side of the road.

When we arrived at the hospital I could not even think of his birthday. The staff at the hospital said that they would do an x-ray to ensure there was actually something in there. I was also informed that they would likely be transferring us to another hospital. UNC, Duke, and Brenner’s were all relatively close Children’s Hospitals. The rest of the family arrived at the ER about the time we saw the x-ray and learned that the battery was indeed lodged in his throat. When the doctor arrived, he stated that the battery needed to come out within 2 hours of it going in to prevent  further damage. Because of this he would be performing the surgery before transferring him to a specialized hospital.

Waiting for that surgery to be completed was the longest wait ever. It was a Saturday morning so there was no staff or the usual hospitality clerks around to keep us informed of what was going on. The expected time passed and then more time passed, and we were finally told that we could go back and see him but were warned that he now had a breathing tube. He had a reaction, possibly to one of the medications, during the surgery, but was revived. He was in a medically induced coma with a breathing tube. We waited for the helicopter arrive to take him to UNC.

None of us were allowed to ride with him, so we had to watch him be airlifted away from us. My husband took our oldest son home to pack some bags and I drove straight to Chapel Hill to meet the baby there. Through this process I learned that as these batteries touch the saliva they charge therefore he was being burned the entire time it was in there. We are fortunate that he had good swallowing muscles and it did not get lodged in his airway. It was also fortunate that it was so quick to be removed and therefore no hole was created between his breathing tube and swallowing tube. There was, however,  a lot of scar tissue from the chemical burns. So the breathing tube would remain until a scope could be done.

While in the pediatric ICU, my baby was not receiving any food. At this time he was eating solids several times a day with breastmilk. From the day we arrived at the ER, I was pumping milk like crazy to keep the supply up. From Saturday to Tuesday he did not have any food. On Tuesday morning he went in for surgery. The scope determined that there were still burns in his throat. They placed a feeding tube. He began receiving breastmilk through the feeding tube and slowly started to wake up. He tolerated those feedings well, so we were eventually transferred to a regular floor. To avoid infection he was on strong antibiotics and large doses of steroids. The antibiotics created a liquid bowel movement that created burns all over his body. The steroids made him very angry and agitated in addition to the fact that he now had a tube hanging out of his nose. We were instructed on how to feed the breast milk through the feeding tube and informed that we would be discharged. I still do not know how to keep a steroid filled, agitated 7 month old from pulling a tube out of his nose, but that is what we were tasked with.

Developmentally we arrived at the hospital in the beginning of that week with a 7 month old. We left with one month old could not even hold his phone head up. As informed by our awesome pediatrician, his physical rehab was quick and natural. In about a week, he was almost back to normal, crawling etc. Thank goodness to the support of the family and small group of friends that I was actually able to tell about this. From prayers, to check ins, to help it feedings, and sewing socks into his onesies so he could not get his little fingers around that tube we had a wonderful support system. Two days before he was supposed to have another scope to determine if the feeding tube could be removed, this guy decided to take it out himself. We went straight to the ER as were instructed upon discharge and fortunately the doctor decided to let him try to drink some water. It went well so we tried a little breast milk. He tolerated that too and we were sent home continuing the liquid diet until the scope on Monday. That vibrant little boy started coming back to us and today you wouldn’t even know anything happened.

Since this experience, I have seen articles and even a couple news stories about this, yet I still talk to many parents who know nothing of the dangers batteries pose in your home. Please spread the word and check your house. Many things with these small batteries are not screwed in tightly or secured. Duct tape your remote! Do whatever it takes to keep batteries away from your babies.

If you think your child may have ingested a battery, seek medical care IMMEDIATELY! Do not give him anything to eat or drink and do not try to get them to vomit. They need the ER, stat!

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